Turkey police blamed for deaths in custody

BISENG ANIK and Kesan Ali were both 16 when they were arrested by police in Turkey last year. There was nothing unusual about that, since hundreds of people, some of them children, have been picked up and held in custody in recent months on suspicion of dissident political views.

What made them different was that both, apparently, committed suicide a few days later. Anik, according to the governor of Sirnak, in south-east Turkey, shot herself with a gun she happened to find under a bed in the room in which she was being held.

Sixteen people have died while in police custody in the past year - six of them, say the police, by committing suicide. Apart from Anik and Ali, there is a third youngster, a 13-year-old schoolboy whose name has not been disclosed. He died, it seems, after a nervous breakdown in his cell. The other suicides are Nurettin Aslan, who jumped from an eighth-floor landing; Burhan Serikli, who managed to hang himself with his blindfold, and Ramazan Altunsoz, who battered himself to death with an iron bar.

All these deaths took place during periods of interrogation at police stations. The bodies of those returned to their families showed distinct bruises and wounds. Police say the suspects fell over, hitting their heads, or that they suffered brain clots or heart attacks. A healthy 80-year-old, Mehmet Yilmaz, had a sudden, fatal rise in his blood pressure. For relations the deaths spell only one thing: torture, most of it by beating.

The deaths of these 16 people are all the more significant because they took place in the months following a promise by the Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel, to end torture. A new legal reform bill, passed by the parliament in November, specifically forbids torture and states that a prisoner may consult with a lawyer at every stage of detention.

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